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MILLER: A bipartisan Balanced Budget Amendment

House Republicans pick pragmatism over purity in deficit fight

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The House will vote next week on a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the Constitution. Democrats agreed to hold this vote as part of the deal raising the debt ceiling, but House Republicans are going to make it more than just a symbolic gesture. They're going to bring up the version that passed the House in 1995.

Until now, House members had been expected to vote on language that cleared the Judiciary Committee with spending caps and a higher threshold for tax hikes. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the original sponsor of both versions, told The Washington Times in an interview that his colleagues "in multiples" are in favor of a "clean version that has a chance of passing, rather than one that has no chance of passing." That bill already has 15 Democratic cosponsors.

Mr. Goodlatte, a Virginian, said that if the Republican-led House only took up the more partisan language, "the public is going to say we didn't try." He explained that the simple version "shows Americans that we are serious about the Balanced Budget Amendment, and that we want to work in a bipartisan way."

That has upset a coalition of 32 large conservative groups who warned House Speaker John A. Boehner in a letter Wednesday that a weak BBA bill "will be regarded as an abandonment" of his "commitment to the taxpayers."

The groups include 60 Plus Association, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and Faith and Freedom Coalition. ATR's Grover Norquist explains that he opposes the House compromise because he doesn't think any version can get the 20 Democratic votes needed in the Senate.

"There aren't enough scared Democrats to pass the robust Balanced Budget Amendment this year," Mr. Norquist told The Washington Times. "I fear that by having a vote on the weak measure, you give Democrats the cover to pretend that they support it, knowing it will fail in the Senate. ... We can get the two-thirds needed for the robust measure in two election cycles by defeating some Democrats in 2012 and scaring others in 2014."

Mr. Goodlatte would prefer that version, but realistically, "Most members don't believe that passage is even remotely possible."

Democrats seem determined to stand in the way, despite the best Republican efforts at bipartisanship. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland is working to prevent his colleagues from voting for any version of what he called "a distraction and a political device."

Unless this country gets its books in order, America will end up like Greece and Italy. While the ideal amendment would require a supermajority to raise taxes when spending gets out of control, maintaining the status quo would be the worst of all scenarios.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

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